Hello all, and I wish you all a happy Christmas.
Writing is going well, but I’m as slow as ever in comparison to the speedsters in the market. All my writing effort is currently going into Inside Straight – Bite Back 6. I’m about half way through, but having a little trouble linking the dramatic scenes up smoothly.
I have A Threat Among the Stars back from Lauren, and I will put it up for pre-order shortly, and release in mid January.
Here’s Chapter 1 of Inside Straight as a stand-alone teaser. 🙂
I’m doing things the right way. For once. Why does it feel so wrong?
It was stupid o’clock, with the sun sensible enough to still be in bed, and I was out at Haven, cooling my heels.
So much for orders.
You and your House rest. Christmas with your family. Food and wine and television. Cards and presents. Skylur had ordered me to take time off.
But I was here because this was where Bian was, and she was the only person with a direct line to Skylur at the moment. As far as the rest of the Athanate world was concerned, Skylur was in mourning for Diana after her dramatic death in LA. In fact, the pair of them, Skylur and Diana, were in a magically shielded van, somewhere between California and here.
Diana’s ‘death’ had been carefully stage-managed. That truth needed to remain a secret, especially from the eagle vision of the Empire of Heaven’s Adepts.
I’d returned home to Denver yesterday. The plan was that Skylur and Diana would be here within the next day or so. Diana would stay and recover from the Adept working that had made her appear dead, even to the eyes of the Empire’s Adepts. Skylur would move on to New York, his new domain, the former domain of the Warders.
I will come to you with Tullah, Diana had said. I hadn’t heard anything from Tullah, and my trouble sense was prickling.
I had to assume Diana, Tullah and Kaothos would have to be here for Tullah to reclaim her dragon from Diana. And that once they were, Denver would become a closed city for Athanate. We had to prevent the Empire of Heaven from finding out we’d lied about Diana and Kaothos, or the whole carefully balanced political arrangement, where Skylur and the Emperor ran the Assembly from the sidelines, would disintegrate.
If it did, the world would be thrown precipitately into Emergence, without the preparation that Skylur believed would save it from being the holocaust we feared.
With Skylur going to New York, he’d appointed House Trang to take up the domain of Denver and the territory of Colorado, so Bian was my immediate boss and the person handed the responsibility of ensuring the security of the secrets we would be hiding here.
And when Pia had shaken me awake a couple of hours ago and handed me an urgent telephone call with a bare sentence of explanation, I’d known I would have to override my gut reaction and get clearance from on high through Bian.
I’d hoped for a quiet time over Christmas. The paranormal world owed it to me, and I’d found out how much I owed it to my family. While I’d been caught up in what Forsythe had done to me in my last year of school, I’d completely missed that he’d done the same thing to my sister.
I’d argued with Jen and Pia about Kath; what to do and how to do it. A long argument.
I’d wanted to come in like the cavalry and fix things, right now.
They said no.
Maybe time would show if wiser heads had prevailed. We’d see. In any case, I’d agreed to start slow and quiet—ease back into the family, and my relationship with Kathleen, starting with a Christmas Eve dinner at Mom’s tonight. Tonight, 7pm. Fourteen hours’ time. In pretty clothes and with my face washed. No excuses.
The urgent telephone call had come out of nowhere.
House Lloyd, a small Athanate House from Detroit, who were outsiders, were driving to Denver to throw themselves at my feet and beg sanctuary.
Outsiders. Diazoun in Athanate. It had once been acceptable, if eccentric, to cut all ties with other Athanate and live without getting involved in the squabbles of creeds and rules, or the responsibilities of associations. It wasn’t acceptable any more. Diazoun was starting to have the same connotations as epitre, which translated approximately as ‘unorthodox’.
Rogues were epitre.
Rogues were put down.
And sanctuary. A venerable Athanate institution. She hadn’t been clear if she meant simple protection or becoming a sub-House. If House Lloyd made her Blood oath to me and became my sub-House, then all her problems suddenly became mine. Granted, they were no longer diazoun. But some of those problems included that House Lloyd was supposed to be a sub-House of House Prowser in Michigan.
Prowser. Only a senior ally and old friend of Skylur’s.
Then there was the small matter that House Lloyd’s kin included Adepts, not something that other Adepts thought was acceptable even in normal circumstances, but these Adepts were outlaws being hunted by the combined Adept communities of Michigan and surrounding states, both sides of the border.
Adept communities working together? Oooh, that has to be good.
My Athanate side loved the idea of new members in my House. Especially Adepts. My wolf yawned and went back to sleep. The rest of my brain, the logical part, was feverishly totting up the odds and counting reasons why it was impossible to accept.
I’d pointed out to her that, given the politics, I’d have to petition Skylur before accepting.
However, my caller, Amanda Lloyd herself, was nothing if not persistent.
I brought out what I thought would be a deal-breaker.
“House Lloyd, there’s something you should realize before you cross the state border,” I said, stumbling through warning her without giving anything away. “Colorado is going to be closed to unauthorized Athanate movement anytime now. I don’t want to go into it—it’s all to do with House Altau moving his domain to New York. It could mean you end up denied sanctuary and imprisoned instead. Maybe it’d be a better outlook if you tried House Thompson in Cheyenne.”
She said nothing for a moment. Then: “House Farrell, I am desperate, and it can only be you.”
“For heaven’s sake, why?”
“Because Scott, my eldest kin…” she paused, a catch in her breath, and I could hear she was gathering herself, fighting to keep her voice level. “Because he’s dying. Because my only hope is for you to infuse him. Because they say your infusion carries less severe crusis and he has a chance of surviving it. Please, House Farrell. I’m begging you.”
All of it, all of it had to be passed up the chain of command, but she’d sunk hooks into my heart with that desperation. She’d accepted all the risks—my untested infusion might kill him, Skylur might order them to be imprisoned or returned to Michigan, and so on, and she was still coming. How could I turn that away?
Another hour or so and they’d be here. A despairing Athanate, one dying kin and two outlaw Adept kin.
Diazoun, Pia had muttered after the call, shaking her head. It hadn’t been a problem historically, when there had been space for expansion. These days, with so little of the world unclaimed by Athanate Houses, and so much at stake, it was a real problem. Skylur had decreed that there were no diazoun in America. Everyone was supposed to be a part of House Altau, either giving their oaths directly to Skylur, or by becoming a sub-House of someone who had, like me.
And Skylur had decreed that House Lloyd should be a sub-House of House Prowser.
What if Skylur didn’t say imprison them, what if instead, he demanded they were put down like rogues? Demanded I do it?
My gut twisted.
Alternately, what if he wanted them for himself? Adepts willing to work with Athanate were a prize.
I was really unhappy with that. Mine, I wanted to snarl, just thinking about it.
I’d gotten way ahead of myself again.
To complete to my list of things I didn’t want to happen today, because I have to be at Mom’s at 7pm, no excuses, Yelena had persuaded me to make good on another promise I’d made. She’d flown down to LA to pick up Tove Johansen, another victim of Forsythe, who’d helped us. They’d be back this morning.
It’d been a promise made in the heat of the moment without being thought through—that Tove could come live with us to get her life back in order.
Not thought through: that was me all over recently.
I had some excuse. I’d slid down the slope, all the way to rogue, out in New Mexico.
They’d brought me back — Diana, Bian and my House .
I’m fine. Aren’t I?
If I felt so odd today, maybe it was just an accumulation of small things. Worry about Mom’s dinner tonight. My gut feeling about House Lloyd. Worry about trying to save a dying kin with my infusion. Having to ask Bian’s permission for something my instincts had already pretty much decided on. Having Keith instead of Yelena with me. And…
Stop. Think of practical things.
Tove: she would have to be made kin if she stayed with us. How would she feel about that? And I could imagine Jen’s delight at another house guest in addition to House Lloyd—and Tove was a drug addict who’d paid for her addiction with her body. It was lucky Jen had bought the house next door to expand into. If we ran out of room there, I guess there was always David’s house in Wash Park, which was empty at the moment.
Everywhere my thoughts turned, there were problems.
Well, the cards would fall where they would fall. Yelena was on her way back from LA with Tove, and I was here, with my former boyfriend Keith as my backup, cooling my heels in the depths of Haven, feeling restless, uneasy and itching to hear what Skylur’s response would be.
Bian had told me Skylur’s protocol for contact excluded anyone else being present. She’d sent me down to the gym, where, even at this ungodly hour, she assured me there would be something to distract me.